Over time, you come to know a place. In our culture we mostly pass through the world focused on where we are headed or “need to be.” Sadly, I can catch myself thinking about a destination rather than the experiences in front of me as I travel.
That’s one of many reasons I love floating on the river. The whole point is to immerse myself deeply into the float. If I put any “effort” into it, it’s mostly to try and not think a whole lot, but rather just absorb the experiences as I’m gently carried along within its welcoming banks. Floating in a tube puts me directly in the water. I move at a slow pace, and tubing allows me to let go more completely (it’s not easy to spin freely in a kayak or canoe on a flowing river). There’s almost no need to steer when you’re literally surrounded by a rubber bumper. I also have the option to be silent— which allows me to listen and hear more as well as scare critters less.
I like variety but my art training taught me long ago that less is often more. By going along the same route (I recently estimated that I’ve floated this same section 250+ times since 2019). I’ve been on this stretch of river April-December, at all times of the day, even done a handful of floats at night. I’ve developed a pretty good sense of what to expect around every bend. Yet I never know for certain. So this awareness, like a familiar old friend, opens the space within the experience to find and appreciate subtleties and richness within the rapport.
The river, and every landscape we pass through (too often, numbly) are alive and an interconnected web, so there’s inevitably changes. After big floods, the changes can be dramatic. Grand old trees sometimes get uprooted. I’ve noticed the banks get carved out by the immense force of the water (sediment in it acts like sandblasting). Sometimes the protruding boulders are even reshuffled a bit. Different plants emerge, flower, seed and die back each season. Over time some trees hollow out and became havens for raccoons, woodpeckers, or wood ducks and anything else that can make use of them while empty and upright. When gravity finally wins and they lay down on the bank, crayfish will thrive underneath, turtles may sunbathe atop, and herons may perch on the dusty wood to spy and harvest minnows.
The spot in this photo is just under the Elm Ave / Main St bridge. There’s a small island of sorts on the right, which obliges keeping to the left if one wants to float without getting hung up in the shallows. Just as mature plants tenaciously cling to life, new sprouts must be incredibly hardy to gain a foothold. Two young sycamores on the mid-river island just right of the large rock have somehow taken root. They’ve valiantly survived at least three severe floods where they were fully submerged for a day or two while incredible water pressure tugged at them. The tiny rocky island attracts ducks and herons. I imagine it’s because the food is good and easy to come by there. They likely feel relatively safe (humans tend to move past pretty quickly as there’s a slight drop in the river just before it), and so with the weeds and foliage they can be nearly invisible.
Most of us are pretty distracted right here anyway, because that slight drop in elevation obliges paying attention to three big rocks and aiming for a pass in the brief falls between them. The falls make for a mini-water slide that takes one back to childhood for about 3 seconds. Or not—as in the time I was distracted taking photos of a great blue heron on the aforementioned weedy island one early morning. My leaning body, eyes and attention aimed opposite the flow, and the projecting angle of the smallest of the three boulders combined with a slightly bottle-necked force of water and all at once I realized I was fully underwater and had flipped at 7 AM!
I managed to grab the tube and spot then grab and toss my encased but untethered phone into the tube as the currents swept my water shoes (which I had removed and had in the mesh bottom of the tube) downstream. However, while shaking off the shock, my bare feet didn’t fare too well on the smooth mossy rocks, so I slipped while attempting to reach one of the shoes. In doing so, I flipped the tube that I was leaning on for support in the waste deep water—and into which I had tossed my cell! Choice words were expressed and I searched intently for 5 minutes to no avail. Finally I gave up and tried to mentally mark the location by the trees on the bank figuring I’d have to come back later—it was a workday as I recall. (Word to the wise— this was as effective as remembering one’s way in the woods by “memorizing” the trees in a forest—hopeless.)
I stood there dripping and chilled, resigned to be paying for a new cell phone, and took some minor solace in seeing my other water shoe hung up on a tree branch upstream along the bank. As I climbed back into the tube, I was stunned (happily) to discover my phone had wedged between the mesh and underside of the tube! Another stroke of luck, like so many throughout my life
Every bend has character and a tale. A few yards beyond the large rock in this photo, on the left side, is a leafless tree with the girth of a utility-line pole. It’s in the water about eight feet from the bank. It looks to have died. But because I’ve became intimate with this “neighborhood” the last few years, I know otherwise. In fact it was “deposited” there by a flood in 2020. It apparently was uprooted and floated downstream, vestiges of its roots got lodged in some boulders in the river bottom where it now stands, and the force of the flood waters propelled the tree upright. The top of it caught against some existing trees overhanging from the bank. So for nearly two years (and through a couple lesser floods) it has remained locked (somewhat precariously) in place.
At a glance it may just seem to be “any old river scene” and in a way, it is, like your besty is just “an old friend”. I love the way the cloud is reflected in this image, and how it plays off the heaviness of the rocks, and the smooth fluidity of the river’s mirror surface, and the melting image it offers of the lacy, merging tree branches. I like the mysterious dark lushness of the bank beyond the island. The vital greenery of the plants thriving along this river, which was returned to health by the hard work of so many folks during the last few decades. As I passed just after taking this photo, I saw a black crowned heron wading on the isle. It’s an old river, and yet it’s not a “thing” at all — this photo is just a momentary view of a slice of a place I’ve come to know, grown to appreciate for its beauty, experienced some of its wordless magic, always enjoy passing through the center of, and so often, find my own center within.